The Journey Out

90% SAY they would leave if they could. 

Most people in the sex trade feel like they don’t have a better option. 

Studies show that over 90% of women engaged in the sex trade would leave, if they thought they had another option. One study reports this number as high as 96%. 

But barriers such as homelessness and a lack of employment opportunities often keep individuals trapped in a cycle of poverty and hopelessness. 

One study by the Polaris Project found that many victims turned to traffickers due to “sustained unemployment, unpaid debt, and desperation to provide for themselves and their children.” 


Wendy’s Story
 

“I have never felt loved. Not until I had my little girl.”

Wendy was 35 before she believed leaving the sex trade was a possibility. By this point, she had a young daughter that she would leave with her grandparents so she could go “work.” When Wendy’s daughter started calling her grandmother “momma,” she knew she needed out. 

That hit me hard in my chest. I knew that if I didn’t get myself together that it was going to greatly affect her.
— Wendy

A big change happened shortly after that realization—she posted an advertisement for sex and someone who recognized her responded, threatening to call Child Protective Services (CPS). 

I could not imagine losing my daughter. She was the only good thing that ever happened to me, and the only good that I feel that I have done as well. No more in and out of the life. I was done.
— Wendy

 

The barriers to leaving can be extraordinary. 

Homelessness, poverty, abusive situations, and addiction are huge barriers to exiting the sex trade. 

  • 72% of survivors have endured homelessness

  • 74% of survivors have endured poverty

  • 68% of survivors meet the criteria for PTSD

  • 57–90% of survivors report intravenous drug use*

*This study focuses on street-based prostitution.

 

 

“I had the right people helping me.” 

Esmé’s Story

Esmé has had a lot of people help on her path to safety—from friends who hid her while she was quite literally being hunted, to doctors who gathered gift cards and clothing for her. 

While she was looking for a new safe place to stay, she connected with REST through the 24/7 Hotline. At first, she was looking for support—but quickly learned about REST’s shelter, and began calling regularly to see if a bed had opened up. 

Eventually, one did—and she moved into the REST Emergency Shelter.

There are a lot of people here that I feel like God worked through them, and gave me strength. I have a lot of difficult memories—but to not be alone in this is what gives you the hope and the strength to keep going.
— Esmé

Even when a survivor decides to begin the journey out, it can take many attempts to leave.

On average, it takes a survivor 5.8 attempts to leave the sex trade to finally, fully exit.

On average, it takes a survivor 5.8 attempts to leave the sex trade to finally, fully exit.

Kate’s Story

“With him absent, I was able to make my own decisions and knew I could get out then, and then only.”

Over the three years Kate was with her trafficker, she left him five times—but he was a skilled manipulator and made her feel like she was incapable of living life without him, so she returned.

In January of 2019, Kate’s trafficker was arrested—and suddenly she had freedom—she knew this was her moment to get out. The FBI agent assigned to her trafficker’s case told her about REST, and gave her the opportunity to go to an inpatient treatment program for substance abuse. She had never had this option while under the control of her trafficker—she knew he would never let her leave for 30 days. 

Her newfound freedom didn’t come without struggles though—she lost her home, income, and relationship all in a 24-hour span. On top of that, she lost the person who had been making every decision for her. What would she wear today? What would she eat? How would she move forward—without his permission? Trauma bonds are powerful, and extraordinarily difficult to overcome.